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Marriage Interrogation at the Nail Salon

Manicurist, speaking English slowly:
How many children do you have?

Me, startled out of a foot massage stupor:
Uh… (I make the sign zero with my hand not soaking in water.)

Are you married?

Me, looking around at the women close beside me. I don’t want to be having this conversation:
Uh… (I shake my head no)

Manicurist, getting insistent:
Have you ever been married?

Me (I can’t believe this is happening. I shake my head no.)

Manicurist, raising her voice in disbelief:



61 comments for “Marriage Interrogation at the Nail Salon”

  1. Kathy says:

    “I’m just lucky, I guess.”

  2. wendy says:

    Exactly the right answer!

  3. Kate P says:

    I try really hard to feel flattered by the display of disbelief.

  4. Beth says:

    Kinda nice that marriage isn’t our only option,though, right?

  5. Carolin says:

    I have conversations like this at work. Just yesterday someone was quite surprised that I’m working full time. There seems to be a rule that women around 30 have to have a husband and some children.
    Another co-worker didn’t understand that I’m just not interested in a relationship. “But there’s nothing wrong with you!” I told him that I am fine – on my own.

    My 30th birthday is just around the corner and I’m not sure if I want to celebrate it. I know that my family will not be able not to comment on how I really need to start looking for “someone”. (it’s their way to tell me that even a women would do…)

    My mother seems to see former classmates every week and every single one of them has a child or two. I told her that I don’t want to have any children but she just ignores it and keeps on hinting about being ready to become a grandmother.

  6. wendy says:

    Please, celebrate your birthday. Rituals are important. And 30 is great cause to celebrate!!

  7. I was recently told by a cab driver that, despite being in training to become a physician, I was missing out on my “most important role in life” by not being a wife and mother.

    He did not get a tip.

  8. Winegoddesstx says:

    I’ve never understood why the stylist, manicurist, etc. feel compelled to ask very personal questions. I see this person once a month for an hour. I’m all for being polite and exchanging a few pleasantries, but after that I don’t need to be grilled about my personal or work life. We aren’t on each other’s Christmas card lists. I would never call this person in a time of personal or professional crisis. Why do they want all the details of my life? I understand the hairstylist’s need for a little information about my life the first time we meet in order to determine an appropriate hairstyle for my lifestyle, but that is where it ends. I also don’t feel the need to talk just to fill in time. I’m perfectly happy to sit in the chair quietly with my eyes closed.
    Can you tell this is one of my pet peeves?

  9. wendy says:

    This is the first time I was in this salon. It was really annoying.

  10. Jane says:

    @Winegoddesstx – I wish there was a way to “like” your comment. About 50 times.

  11. Beauregard says:

    Ah, yes, lack of manners and the presence of rudeness…
    Shall we respond in kind or deflect…
    as when women ask me
    are your eyes really that blue
    to which I have tried:
    Actually no, they are transplants after I was blinded by Agent Orange in Viet Nam…
    to which a surprising number said thank you soooo much for your service
    so I stopped and instead would pause,
    beat, beat
    and ask
    Are you wearing a push up bra?
    which resulted in confusion so that I had to explain that one rude, intrusive, person question deserves another,
    so I stopped that
    and now I just say,
    no, I’m just sad and suffering from the blues…
    Many years ago Miss Manners suggested you respond with
    I beg your pardon
    again and again until the obtuse asker caught on, but I find they never do…
    And so it goes…

  12. wendy says:

    I was dealing with a language barrier, which made it more difficult.

  13. stacey says:

    My standard response to “the question” is that I haven’t found a man that’s good enough for me yet, and I’m not willing to settle for one that isn’t good enough. Perhaps I’m perpetuating the “too choosy” stereotype that many people seem to have of single women of a certain age, but I can’t tell you how many times they respond to that with, “Well, good, you shouldn’t have to settle.” (And that response often comes from those who are either married or formerly married.)

  14. wendy says:

    Excellent answer.

    It was not a conversation I expected to be having in the nail salon.

  15. Richard says:

    Is your manicurist single? What’s her number?

  16. Juliet says:

    I’ve thought about a good response to the dreaded “Are you married?” question. It comes up a lot at work because we have new people coming on board frequently, a large office, regular turn over. I’ve started fantasizing about saying I choose to remain a FREE woman. In some ways, in my eyes, marriage is not always a great deal for women. But in some ways marriage is a great deal, and I am not against marriage, and would rather be married than not. Therefore, I don’t use the “free woman” response. I really like the “I’m just lucky” and “other options” responses. I might start using those myself. In a department store, while paying for clothes, the cashier and I were talking about the rising price of everything, including food, and she said, yes it’s hard especially with kids, you have kids? I said no, but I still have to buy food. I just got the “look.”

  17. lauren says:

    I went to the doc’s for some routine bloodwork. I have a bit of a needle issue, so I’m breathing deeply, trying not to hyperventilate about the whole needle thing, and the nurse tying the tourniquet on my arm says “no husband?” and I stop the deep breathing, look at her and say, “I’m sorry?” She says “you’re a very pretty girl. I thought that when I saw you: you’re very pretty. So why don’t you have a husband?”

    I picked my jaw up off the floor and told her I had graduate degrees instead, which was not a great answer. And the whole exchange did not decrease my anxiety.

    In retrospect, I wish I had said something darkly funny: Oh, he’s tied up in the basement. Or something.

    I’ve gotten more comments about this since living in a small conservative town, so I sort of assumed it was a small-conservative-town thing. But reading the comments, apparently not! I cannot, for the life of me, imagine starting a conversation with a stranger this way…

  18. wendy says:

    Not sure how far I would’ve taken it with a nurse wielding a needle.

  19. Dienna says:

    “This is the first time I was in this salon. It was really annoying.”

    And hopefully the last! There’s no way I could put up with that nosy rudeness like that.

  20. wendy says:

    I’m not sure she meant to be rude. But I was just looking for a manicure, not conversation.

  21. JoDa says:

    I have this coworker who kinda has a thing for me. It’s not a problem, as these things so often are. He’s very nice and I don’t mind frequent compliments (and carrying of heavy things). It doesn’t hurt that I also think he’s very attractive, made more so by being such a darn nice guy. He’s married, with kids and dogs and the house in the ‘burbs and all, FTR.

    One day, while sitting in my office going over a project we’re working on, he looks at my wall and asks me why I’m not married. I follow his gaze and see he’s looking at this awesome picture I have of a few friends and I at a friend’s wedding. It’s a long story I won’t tell but suffice it to say a random moment led to an amazing photo and life-long memory (bless the photographer for being in the right place at the right time and seeing the moment happening). The photo exudes pure happiness, and it’s my favorite of all the photos I have up in my office.

    So I asked him what he meant. He said “you’re the prettiest of all your friends, and it seems like all your friends are married but you. It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, you hardly even date, and I know people ask you out all the time.” (several other coworkers have asked me out, and with only one exception, I declined). I then proceeded to explain all the hardships the people in the photo have endured. Divorces, infertility, hanging on to marriages that need to end, etc. Given how much I put into my friendships, career, and other pursuits, I explained, I just don’t have time to settle for someone who isn’t 100% on the same page as me, now and forever.

    He then told me about how he almost ended up divorced within a few months of being married over career disputes, and how his wife was not keen on the number of children they have (the last was his desire, apparently), and how, while he loves his wife and kids, he thinks his life could be better in different circumstances. I just said “exactly,” and went back to work. I don’t consider that being too “choosy,” but rather looking for the person who fully fits into my life. I never want to be like him, 4 kids in and thinking things could be “better.” AND THAT is why I am not married and spend every Saturday afternoon listening to my friends bitch about their lives.

    • Liz says:

      I settled to have kids (traditional culture) and it was very painful, soul killing experience but I am glad for having my kids. Now I’ve been divorces 8 years and I am coming to terms to being alone because I refuse to settled ever again. I agree, it is better to have someone who fully fits into my life.
      By the Way, no one dares ask me why I am not married and I talk about all sorts of things at the nail salon.

      • wendy says:

        Liz, it’s good to hear from you. That day at the nail salon was the strangest experience. I don’t know what made the manicurist think it was appropriate small talk.

  22. stacey says:

    I never understood the whole “you’re so pretty, so why aren’t you married” thing.

    It takes a lot more than “pretty” to married. Don’t people realize that???

    It’s like some people think that “pretty” should equal “married” and that people who aren’t “pretty” (however they define it) are expected to not be married, or can be “forgiven” for not being married.

    I don’t know…maybe people who make those kinds of assumptions are just stupid – at least that’s what I choose to think. (Yes, I’m judging them for that. And I don’t care if that makes me bitchy, LOL.)

    • wendy says:

      It’s surprising now to hear people say such things, because they’re such out-dated assumptions. And in fact, they didn’t ever jive with reality.

  23. Ellen says:

    I think that this is one of those questions that isn’t usually meant to be rude, but always took the wind out of me until I found an answer that made me happy.

    Now I just say that I am happy with my life. I have a job I love and friends and family who love me. I don’t have to edit my friends, my wardrobe or my calendar to suit anyone else. My paycheck and my Sunday morning are my own to do with as I please. My life is pretty great. If and when I find someone who can improve on that, then I might reconsider, but until then I am not just holding out for someone extraordinary, I am holding onto a life that I find extraordinary. Right now.

  24. JoDa says:

    Lest you think I don’t understand that relationships require compromise, I definitely do. But as a woman whose priorities are, in order, friends, career, and hobbies, and who doesn’t want children, finding someone who I don’t have to compromise the MOST important things for is nigh impossible (or nearly so, it seems). And I get a lot of judgment for the things I AM willing to compromise on. The last guy I dated was a good bit older than me and wasn’t the corporate type. He was a lovely man, and despite working a good-paying blue-collar job (I’m not entirely sure why we consider people like master electricians and carpenters, particularly those with formal schooling PLUS the on-the-job training they all get, “blue collar,” they are just as much professionals at their trade as office workers, and make quite good livings), was sharp as a tack and we got along really well. You wanna guess how many times I heard “why are you with HIM?” So it’s a shame I’m not married, but it’s unacceptable for me to date someone who is mostly on the same page as me on the big stuff (priorities, kids), but is “too old” and “beneath me.” Perfectly rational there, folks.

  25. Mike says:

    Every once in a while, I’ll get the “why aren’t you married” line, and I’ll wish I were gay so I could snap back with “because the State of Arizona won’t allow it.”

  26. wendy says:

    As well as the other 44 states.

  27. shawnsharif says:

    I’ve once asked my blog readers how would they answer the ‘when are u getting married’ question.

    The best answer (in that it’ll shut people up) would be ‘when you’re dead’.

  28. Girlcott says:

    @ Ellen–I love your response even though when asked “why aren’t your married” or “why don’t you have children?” I would rather say something really flippant. (Not sure what that would be though)

    These really personal questions anger me when I am asked them. I have to step back and remember that folks are trying to make conversation by possibly finding common ground and don’t understand why this would be offensive.

    While ordering food one day, the owner wished me “Happy Mother’s Day” and then asked me if I was a mother. I replied “No” and then the woman behind the counter asked me why I didn’t have kids. I almost exploded! I said that I just didn’t have children and left it at that.

    I love how Anne Lamott addresses Mother’s Day in this article:

  29. Jalina says:

    Co-workers a few years back grilled me about why I wasn’t married. I can’t remember my response, but I do dislike the question. I stopped worrying about 10 years ago or so.

    However, I always think of what a fellow soldier said to me…he said I was an asset because of my education (I only had my bachelor’s at the time) and smarts. I would bring a lot to the table in a relationship. Unfortunately he was married…LOL. But I took it as a complement.

  30. Donn says:

    I will never in my life understand why anything with marriage’s track record has marriage’s appeal.

  31. Donn says:

    I’d send Anne Lamott a Valentine’s Day card if she didn’t hate that too.

    Hallmark Holidays. PFAH.

  32. wendy says:

    It’s the urge to merge. I absolutely understand it.

  33. Laura says:

    This JUST happened to me at the coffee shop. It’s becoming my least favorite conversation.

    I said I just hadn’t found the right person, but I think I’m going to have to come up with something funnier…

    • wendy says:

      The conversation is exasperating. As people know that I’m writing about being single, they’ve stopped asking me. What a relief.

  34. Heather says:

    The way I look at it…she just kissed her tip goodbye and I’d never step foot in there again!

  35. Elise says:

    Soooo not creative enough, you could be having a lot of fun with this, people!! Make up a ludicrously farfetched marriage / kids scenario to answer any and all forthcoming questions!

  36. mark says:

    Don’t know where you are located, but here on the east coast, virtually all nail salons are run by and staffed by Koreans. Different culture, that cannot fathom singleness.

    • wendy says:

      Hey Mark. I’m in California, and many nail salons here are also staffed (and run) by Koreans. Do you really think that younger Koreans can’t fathom singleness?

  37. mark says:

    Yes, if they are Korean born and raised, which I think most of the nail salon employees are. Was it a Korean who interrogated you?

  38. elaine says:

    I’m just not much of a conformer in life when it comes to marriage and kids. I’ve been in a few relationships and they’ve all had the same pattern and made me come to the conclusion that I am simply a better, stronger, more capable person being single. As for kids, well i’m happy to just babysit for family and friends as its really quite a relief to hand them back. Anyway, I have nephews and nieces and that’s all I need.

    • wendy says:

      Thanks for weighing in Elaine. I’ve had some lousy relationships and some great ones, though they never lead to marriage. (A few proposals.) Couldn’t get through life without my dog.

  39. Lori says:

    I ignore them. Personally, I think it is culturally insensitive to make comments to someone from the culture group of the unmarried. Imagine walking up to a female professor from any eastern country and asking her, “Are you a nail technician? Why not!!!??? What’s wrong with you?

  40. Jess says:

    Hi Wendy! I stumbled upon your site and have to say it’s completely refreshing! Even in the very open-minded NYC, I still get dumbfounded looks when I tell people I prefer being independent, and simply feel like I’m my most authentic self when I’m single. What confounds me is that people still even care one way or the other! But as long as they do (and we have to put up with puzzled looks at the nail salon and elsewhere), it’s lovely that sites like your exist. Thanks!

    • wendy says:

      So glad to meet you, Jess. I love your attitude!

    • Ali says:

      Ditto Jess – I’ve just stumbled across this site. I am always blindsided when asked why I’m not married and childless. It would be great to have a snappy response to rely on.

      • Dee says:

        I added my own separate comment on this thread, but maybe the only snappy reply we need is: “That’s a rude question!” And leave it at that.

        • wendy says:

          I usually don’t have trouble speaking up for myself, but in the environment of the nail salon, and with someone who had limited English skills, it just was easier to let the moment pass.

  41. Kathleen says:

    Love the conversation thread here. I dated for 36 years and just got married a few months ago – for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times I answered the question why not a husband and why not kids.
    Years ago, when so many friends were divorcing, I started saying “i get to skip the first round”. That always stopped people because they had to think about it.

    I had a similar nail salon incident years ago. I was in my neighborhood salon with my 6 lovely young nieces and the gal working on me asked if I had a husband. The nosy owner yelled loudly “she has no husband, no kids, she have nothing”. My sweet nieces all just stared at me and then her. Needless to say, we never went back. Some people just don’t get it. Marriage isn’t for everyone. I had a GREAT life before I got married and feel very fortunate to have married a great man – my life is great now in different ways. People need to not feel sorry for single people…. It was my choice and I loved it for a very long time.

  42. Emm says:

    I actually found a new hairstylist several years ago when the one I was going to (OK, not great but pretty good) started asking me AT EVERY VISIT when I was going to have kids. Because her stories of being a struggling single mom with a baby daddy former boyfriend who wasn’t interested in their child must have been so appealing to me… Yeah. Upon question #2 or #3 I decided that she’d cut and colored me well for years but enough was enough…

    Never forget the prevalence of the mindset one of my college friends showed me – “why don’t you have kids… you have to.” Like marriage as well, apparently. “You have to.” Don’t these people ever ask themselves who made the rule, and why?

    • wendy says:

      I’m sorry you had to lose your stylist, which to me would be a devastating loss. But I’m really glad you stood up for yourself.

  43. Beth says:

    Do manicurists all have the same standard questions? I was asked “do you have children?”
    “yes, 4, now adults.”
    “Are you married?”
    “Not anymore.”
    “Maybe if you had fewer children, you would have had more time to take care of your husband, and you’d still be married.”

    How do I respond to that? When the polish is 1/2 on, and I can’t walk out??

  44. Dee says:

    This happened to me late last year. I have decided I’m not going to take these questions from strangers anymore. If someone asks me a personal question I’ve decided that I will not answer and will tell them it’s a rude question.

    “Are you married?”
    “Why do you ask?”

    “Why don’t you have kids?”
    “What a rude question!”

    Enough said. We owe no one but ourselves an explanation for our choices. I don’t ask anyone to justify their decision to get married/have kids. I demand the same respect!

    (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m very passionate about this topic.)

  45. Taylor says:

    Wow, sorry to hear of everyone’s stories! This is absurd that this still happens in 2015. I have also gotten the interrogation at the nail salons, which have all been staffed by young Asian women who have not been in the US very long. Sad to think that what we take for granted here as women is not the norm around the world.

    In the past, I’d always had snarky comments prepared for the “Are you married” question. My favorite was always, “No, as long as he puts the toilet seat down and goes home in the morning, I’m good.” That one stopped many in their tracks, until the day I said it without thinking to this rather ultra-religious, conservative co-worker. I think the woman was actually traumatized by this. I felt pretty guilty about that one.

    Now approaching my 50’s, I just say, “No, I saved up my money to buy a dog instead.” ha!

    Thanks for the great blog!

    • wendy says:

      Yesterday on the street, some stranger asked me if there were any good grammar schools in the neighborhood. I had to laugh, thinking, boy did you ask the wrong person. But maybe we can assume that the “are you married” question is a neutral one.

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